Wednesday, September 8, 2004

A little too eager? The Bush family, a Nazi banker and the military-industrial complex

SBS recently aired a two-part documentary, “The World According to Bush”. In the second instalment, two points were put forward that I thought particularly disturbing.

(1) Dubyah’s grand-father, Prescott Bush, was alleged to have been a Nazi banker and to have profited from the use of forced concentration camp labour from Auschwitz in a factory he owned nearby; and

(2) A private holding company worth US$3.5 billion, the Carlyle group, is largely staffed and owned by ex-Republican presidential advisors, and ex-CIA and Pentagon officials. It owns a number of corporations (including European companies) with large US Government defence contracts. Its advisory board includes Bush snr, and its investors include the Bin Laden family.

The first claim is dismissed with the least research.

Prescott Bush was an investment banker – his bank had dealings with a number of German clients. One was Fritz Thyssen, an early backer of the Nazi party, but also one of the first to jump ship – leaving Germany in 1939. In a book “I Paid Hitler Thyssen confessed his role in financing the Nazis and denounced the Führer”.

Thyssen had a bank in the US - UBC – with 4,000 issued shares. Prescott Bush owned one. Bush and his other banking colleagues later told regulators that they sat on the UBC board only as an unpaid courtesy to a foreign client.

Holding interests in German companies was not illegal in the US until the passage of the 1942 Trading with the Enemy Act – at which point Bush’s UBC share was confiscated (he was later compensated $US 1.5 million).

Not very damning.

(The only thing I have not tracked down is whether when Thyssen left Germany in ’39 his interest in the UBC bank was nationalised. If that did happen, and his interest in the bank was a controlling one, then arguably Prescott Bush’s UBC client in ’39-’42 might have been the Nazi state. However, I have to stress that’s merely a possible line of inquiry suggested by the remark at Straight Dope that Hitler confiscated Thyssen’s fortune in ’39.)

Straight Dope deals convincingly with the slave labour charge: “Another company in which Prescott and his associates had a stake was the Silesian-American Corporation (SAC), which owned several industrial concerns in Poland … SAC plants in Poland were taken over by the German government after the Nazi invasion of 1939, and the Auschwitz prison camp wasn't established until 1940. No one can seriously claim that Prescott Bush managed camp inmates in any of those plants.”

That is, SAC had been expropriated and was out of Bush’s hands at the time.

The only exaggerated point about the Carlyle group, however, is the extent of its connections to the Bin Ladens: members of the wealthy Saudi family had US$2 million in it (a drop in the $3.5 billion bucket) for 6 years, and Carlyle ended the relationship after September 11, 2001. (Michael Moore describes the Bin Ladens as "significant" Carlyle investors in "Farenheit 9/11" - but while $2 million is a lot, it's clearly not huge on either the Carlyle or Saudi scale of wealth.)

Worthy of far more investigation (see the excellent Guardian article) is the close kitchen-sink cabinet relationship between Carlyle and the Bush administration, and the potential conflict of interest some of Carlyle’s members have in serving as informal advisors to the White House in a time of conflict while profiting hugely from defence contracts.

“The World According to Bush” unfortunately gave equal prominence to this genuine scandal, and ill-researched and largely ludicrous allegations – allowing some to brand the whole as lies that taxpayers should not be subsidising.

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